Last week, lost amidst the horror of Friday's events, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a report, "Untangling the web: The internet's transformative impact on adoption."
I first heard about the report via this NPR story that came across my newsfeed. I gave the article my typical 5 raspberries on a scale of 1-5 for it's framing and ignoring adoptees and birth/first parents, which is typical since MPR simply can't seem to figure out that anyone other than adoptive parents matter in this transaction we call adoption. In addition, this particular story comes perilously close to sounding like baby-buying.
The New York Times, which I often give at least 5 1/2 raspberries to for its poor framing and coverage of adoptees surprisingly began its story discussing how adoptees and birth/first families have used the internet to search and connect and find support (I wasn't surprised after learning who wrote the story, however, as I have spoken with reporter Ron Nixon and have found him to be incredibly more nuanced about adoption than most reporters).
The Adoption Institute report covers both – how the internet and social media and social networks affect the pre-adoption process as well as the life-long impacts on adoptees and birth/first families that most people don't even consider in the emotional first days of an adoption placement.
As the report states, "the internet is having a profound, permanent impact on modern adoption." It has had many beneficial effects on my life both personally and professionally, and yet I also see the many ways that the internet and use of social media and social networking sites have also harmed people.
Before I was blogging, I found online discussion groups and that is where I found my virtual community. Even though I grew up in a state that claims to have the highest per capita rate of Korean adoptees, growing up I didn't know they existed. Internet groups were my way of dipping my toes in the water, reaching out to meet others and learn that my experiences were similar to others.
And then I discovered blogs and adoptee bloggers and for a while there was a whole group of us. Sadly most of the others have quit. The blogs were also where I found adoptive parents, domestic adoptees, foster alum and birth/first parents. Blogs were an amazing way for me to get to know the other parts of the adoption constellation.
As a county worker I used social media sites and the internet to look for family members, extended relatives and other former important people for the youth on my case load. The internet was a place where youth's profiles were sometimes uploaded as a tool for recruitment. The youth also could create Foster Club accounts and connect with others in foster care.
There tends to be a lot of concern about the ethics of the internet in both pre-adoption recruitment and marketing, as well as in the post-adoption search and reunion areas. I agree that both of these areas are ripe for unethical and illegal activities – however I believe strongly that the internet is a tool, not a cause- and that the internet and social media sites are merely one more place where people behave, in both positive and negative ways. The instantaneous nature of the internet makes such behavior visible on a larger scale, to a larger number of people and harder to erase (which is itself practically impossible these days).
Another issue I have is when adoptive parents over-share about their children, in particular the really negative stuff. There is one blog which I will not link to that several people over the past few months have told me to check out, where the adoptive parent gives great detail about her daughter's mental illness. While I fully support the intent to educate and find support, I think we need to remember that when talking about someone else's life, particularly a child's, we are adding vulnerability to an already vulnerable person. When a parent lays out their child's mental health problems, medical history, problem behaviors, it is out there for everyone. I think it's particularly hypocritical to be criticizing young people for sharing TMI on the internet when I see adoptive parents as being quite egregious in that department myself. Adoptive parents are not the only ones that share too much on the internet – adoption workers sometimes do as well. Agencies need to be thoughtful about what information about children is shared on the internet. Public profiles garner the page hits and inquiries, but may be violating the child's right to privacy. Just because a child is in foster care through no fault of their own is no reason to broadcast his or her information on the internet.
A few minor grievances: in the section about the internet's impact on information, support and affiliation for adoptees, the report perpetuates that adoptees are "young" by stating "[b]ecause they are by definition the youngest members of the adoption community…" (p.22). This is irritating since I am in my mid-forties and don't think adopted persons my age and older need to continue to be lumped together with children, youth and young adults – particularly since I am the same age or older as many adoptive parents and/or birth/first parents – so why are adopted persons always described as the youngest member of the triad? We are not children. Several of my adoptee friends are grandparents!
I agree with the report's findings that key stakeholders need to come together to work on how best to safeguard children and families from unethical and illegal adoption practices and to craft a best-practices standard guide. However, the report lists stakeholders as "key organizations and experts in the fields of child welfare, foster care and adoption" (p. 53). Last time I checked, adopted persons, first/birth parents and adoptive parents were both stakeholders and experts too and any best practice guide should also include those voices.
For the whole report, see "Untangling the Web: The Internet's Transformative Impact on Adoption" on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute web page. You can also read the executive summary.
ETA: 1:54 pm. I just learned today that Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, will be on NPR's Talk of the Nation discussing the report. I will link to it when it becomes available.
4:27 pm. The link to the discussion is now available here. You can also listen to it here below.
I completely agree with your points about how the internet has changed things for the foster/adopt community. As a foster parent, I don’t know any other foster parents in real-life. But online I have a very strong community of others with whom I can share my experiences and seek advice. I’ve even found an online group of foster families in my area, which is now transitioning to meeting in person. The internet has helped make this very isolating lifestyle a bit less isolating.
Thanks for the comment. I just looked at your blog/website – it’s really great! You offer some really substantive and thoughtful responses. Best wishes.